In a survey of school districts sponsoring bond issues in Minnesota, LERN determined that those who participated in community education were more likely to vote in favor of the bond issue, regardless of whether or not they had children in the system. In some cases, the difference between passing and defeating the bond issue could be attributed to the voting patterns of community education participants
100 Years of History
The concept of schools being a center of community life goes back a century in the United States. Progressive educators of the time, including John Dewey, Jane Addams, and urban planner Clarence Perry, first envisioned the model of schools that serve as the center of neighborhood social life and the agent of neighborhood-based social services, while also educating children. In response to the social disruption of American life with the coming of the industrial age, community based education provided a source for creating both social cohesion and improving the lives of community residents.
The “lighted schoolhouses” of Flint, Michigan provided the next evolution of community education in the 1930s. Under the name Community Education, these programs were developed to serve children and working parents in the evenings. This became a model throughout the country. Principles taught in Community Education trainings then are still in use today:
- “Citizen involvement in community problem-solving and decision making—citizens have a right and a responsibility to be involved in determining community needs and in linking those needs and resources to improve the community;
- Lifelong learning opportunities for learners of all ages, backgrounds and needs;
- Use of community resources in the schooling/education curriculum;
- Opportunities for parents to become involved in the learning process of their children and the life of the school;
- Optimum use of public education facilities by people of all ages;
- Coordination and collaboration among agencies and institutions;
- Partnerships with business, industry, and schools; Everyone shares responsibility for educating all members of the community
- Utilization of volunteers to enhance the delivery of community services.” (source: “100 Years of community Schools,” http:// web.utk.edu/~fss/minutes/history.doc)
Community Education Today
The role of community education in building a literate and educated society has been critical in the history of our country. Today, the societal upheavals of the information age are as profound as those of the industrial revolution, and the need for community education as a resource and center of community life and learning is just as great.
Changing times have brought changed perspectives, however, and in many communities, community education programs have faced reduced funding, lack of support and challenges to their mission. Because the role of community education is critical to the quality of community life, now is the time to make sure that community members and stakeholders understand the value of this service and support it fully.
Make your program essential
One way you can assure support for your program is to let others know the essential role it plays in the economic life of your community. Here are some key points you should make sure everyone in your community understands:
- Knowledge Spillover: In his book The New Geography of Jobs, author, Enrico Moretti writes that “Researchers have built sophisticated mathematical models showing that sharing knowledge and skills through formal and informal interaction generates significant knowledge spillovers.”These knowledge spillovers are thought to be an important engine of economic growth for cities and nations.” ( Page 99-100)
- In a famous 1988 article, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas argued that these spillovers may be large enough to explain long-run differences between rich and poor countries. Your program contributes to higher overall knowledge in your community.
Your Hidden Assets
Your program contributes much more to the community than just classes and activities in the evenings. While this is the most visible aspect of what you do, it is not the only important thing you do. It is important that you make sure your community understands the critical ways in which you contribute to the economic and social welfare of your community.
Local employers benefit: in a LERN study, 35 percent of community education participants reported that they “learned skills that help me at work” in classes not specifically work related.
- Of those taking work-related courses, 90.3 percent learned skills that were helpful at work
- Local employers can save on health care costs. A study conducted for Johnson & Johnson by the Medstat Group of Ann Arbor, Mich., analyzed medical insurance claims for 18,331 Johnson & Johnson employees who participated in its Health & Wellness Program from over a four-year period.
- Savings of $225 annually per employee came from reductions in hospital admissions, mental health and outpatient visits. Employee medical expenses were evaluated for up to five years before and four years after the program began. Johnson & Johnson savings averaged $8.5 million annually.
Your Participants give back to the community: The same LERN study found that Community education participants are more likely to be involved in community issues.
- 91 percent pointed to community ed as contributing to quality of life, and important metric in communities facing out-migration of college educated residents
- Community Ed participants are more civically engaged
- They are more likely to take leadership roles in the community that benefit others
- They contribute more to local tax base
- Improved skills lead to increased employment and local economic health
Your economic impact
- Every dollar spent in community education programs for user fees, instructor pay, supplies and materials recirculates about 3 ½ times through your community. This economic impact has a beneficial effect on other businesses, banks and the tax base.
- You contribute to job creation and local business health.
- Do an economic impact study of your program and make your community aware of how you contribute to the economic health of your town or neighborhood.
How your program influences community attitudes
Participants in your program behave differently than those who do not participate, especially when it comes to supporting education. In another LERN study, which has been corroborated by others, it was found that participants in community education programs vote to support school funding initiatives at a higher rate than those who do not, even if they do not have children in the public schools.
This is a critically important point for central administration to understand, and it a key point in gaining financial support for your program when budget time comes around. Here are the findings from on community that LERN researched:
- Total Universe of Respondents: 693
- Percentage with no school-age children: 73 percent
- Percentage more likely to support local funding initiatives: 58 percent
This outcome demonstrates that while only 27 percent of those voters who responded to the survey had school aged children, 58 percent supported school funding initiatives. Those supporters with no school-aged children were predominantly participants in community education programs. Thus, promoting your programs effectively and broadly is one essential way to assure community support for schools in general.
For more information on how to conduct an economic impact survey or a full report on the voter outcomes study please contact Tammy at firstname.lastname@example.org.